Dr. Ezekiel Aikohin Ainabe is an engaging personality. He is the Chairman Zeek Group Of Companies which includes Zeek Oil and others. Ainabe is a man who rose through the ranks. He admits the only property his father had was a bicycle. He would not have gone to school but for the Free Education introduced in the Western Region of Nigeria in 1955. That changed his story and his life, for the good. He admits he was one of the few men of means who bought properties in Apapa in the 70s. A generous philanthropist in pursuit of the ideals of Rotary Club which he belongs, Ainabe is also a devout member of the Anglican Church, where he was awarded a Knight of the church. His financial prowess and business acumen earned him a seat on the board of Bestworth Assets and Trust Limited, which is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. In this chat with Oge Ezeliora during his 70th birthday in Lagos, the philanthropist speaks on his lifestyle, family background and why he would like to devote more time to his wife…
How do you feel attaining a ripe and glorious age of 70?
I feel much fulfilled and I give glory to God that I am 70 and by the grace of God in good health, both physically and mentally and I feel very settled in my mind. The most interesting thing is that I am very certain that I’m in the right place that I should be. I feel fulfilled with my family, with my work, with my charity and the position I rose to in my career as a politician is very fulfilling. I feel very happy and grateful that I am 70. I bless God for keeping me till this age. I know it’s not easy. I have been working very hard, trying my best to make my family comfortable at all times. I appreciate God for that. Whatever I am today is by the special grace of God. I bless God that I am alive to celebrate this year. My families are alive to celebrate with me. They came from all parts of the world to celebrate with me. I have been promoted to the next level in life. I know I have done enough for myself and this is the time to relax with my family and enjoy. I feel very much honoured that God has honoured me. Today, “is indeed a special day to me because when I was 50, I thought I would celebrate it in a big way but I fell sick and could not celebrate my birthday as I planned it then. So I waited till I was 60. Then I and my children celebrated my 60th birthday in United Kingdom and in USA. But it cannot be compared to this one because I am 70. And I chose to celebrate this one in Nigeria so that I could invite my friends and well wishers. As I speak to you, my heart is full of joy that I am celebrating my retirement age. So I give thanks to God.
But you don’t look the age. What is the secret?
I think the answer I always give first is that probably because the years run so fast. The number of the years you are carrying or you have attained doesn’t allow your body the time to adjust to the number; because by the time you know it, it is Christmas and by the time you know it, it is New Year. So I just feel that with that, it will be difficult for the body to catch up. However, naturally in my family, we age well and from where I come from, which is Ekpoma. That is why I always tell people that I am from Edo State and I am not scared of age because from the time you are born, you are taught how to look after yourself, so we age gracefully. The idea is not to look young. I don’t want to be young but the idea is to age gracefully.
At 70 will you say you have achieved much, are you satisfied with amount of wealth you have?
A lot of people have asked me those questions. I tell you the truth: I have done well for myself. If you say I have achieved, yes I have. In wealth and in good health. Some people are about my age but they are not in good health. I thank God for my life and I am celebrating my 70th birthday in good health. I am privileged to be alive and I am satisfied with all I have. I have the peace of God in my life. I have good people like the elders, the church, my club, Rotary, and my community that cares about me. I belong to a club which believes in helping people. I don’t struggle for what is not mine. I was among the first set of millionaires that came to Apapa to reside in the 70s and I bought quite a large number of properties then of which I am enjoying today. God has been faithful to me because I am under His directive. All the wealth I acquired today came from God’s directive. I do nothing without seeking His face; maybe because of my background. I came from a very humble background which I will not go into details about. But God has lifted me. I know lot of people have forgotten their backgrounds and they are living extravagantly without helping the less privileged. They also forget where they came from and how they suffered to become great. That is not my style. Each time I look at where I came from, and what I am today, I give praise to God. I am happy I have reached the age of 70. And it is my wish that I will continue to celebrate more years until God decides to call me.
Are you among those millionaires that acquired wealth through inheritance?
My father only had a bicycle and a mud house before he died. I came up from a humble background. In fact, I went to school by privilege and that is the reason why I always help the poor. But today I have more than enough for me. I have done excellently well more than my father. How I wish he was alive to witness what is happening. All I have today is what God has given me. I see myself doing very well and I have done well. Like I said this, this is my retirement age.
What are your achievements?
I think it will be very immodest to start outlining my achievements but to be very modest, I think my greatest achievement is investing in the house of God. Helping the needy is my hobby and also bringing up the less privileged turning them into professionals like my own children and seeing them grow; putting them in the best schools and giving them as much exposure as possible – locally and internationally. Seeing these ones develop confidence in themselves, speak well and excel in school. These are my achievements anything I have today belongs to God.
How did you come up with the idea of getting people together from far and near to celebrate with you?
Sometime ago, I told myself that when clocked 50 years, I would surely celebrate it in a grand style. I tried it when I was 60 but it never worked out because I was ill. So I said my 70th birthday must be great. As the time approached, I told my family about it and my children bought the idea and planned it for me. I just wanted people to come and celebrate with me. I wanted my friends to thank God for me that I am alive, sound, strong and healthy to celebrate 70 years. It is a big plus to me. I know many people that we started together but today they are not alive to celebrate. I give God the Glory.
With all you have today, you might have passed through one or two challenges in life, can you share some?
Life itself is full of challenges. I had a humble background so things were tough for my father. I give God the glory for the free education programme that was set up in 1955 as I benefited from the programme. It was the same free education that made me to attend primary school, secondary and even the university. Although I got financial assistance from few people that noticed I was brilliant. If not, I would have been a peasant farmer or even died as my family could not afford to send me to school. So I see it as an achievement because my parents would not have afforded to send me to school due to their poor background. Again, everything turned around for my good. Apart from that, all my children are well trained and they are all doing well. On that note, I believe God has really blessed me. I rose up from grass and today I am living by his grace it is a testimony.
Can you compare the Nigeria of today to that of the ‘70s?
I know things were better in the ‘70s compared to Nigeria of today. But we have hope and believe in almighty God for great change. Nigeria is like the mature man that has a whole lot of stories to tell; a story to tell to the younger generation; a story of imperial colonial rule; a story of oppression; a story of struggle for independence, a story of anticipated freedom; a story of war and lack. Nigeria has a story of oil boom and plenty and a story of lean returns and famine. Indeed, there is a lot happening in our country. All we need is to pray for our President because it is not easy to rule Nigeria with the Boko Haram menace. I have faith that God will bring forth change to our country. Nigeria will be a better place by the special grace of God. We should learn how to support our president instead of running him down Remember we all voted and prayed for him to win and now he has won God has heard us. Why don’t we support him with our prayers? Why don’t we follow our conscience and support him? Yes, the oil price has gone down tremendously and our President is still managing. We should support him. So he will have the strength to exhibit what God has led him to do for us. I believe all he has promised us he will do it by the special grace of God.
Do you sometimes feel intimidated by some of your friends within your age bracket?
I look at myself as a human being and I don’t allow myself to be intimidated and I don’t go out of my way to intimidate people. I just know that all of us are in the business of nation building. It is for you to show your strength. What I always tell people is that let’s meet in the field as human beings. If you are good and nice to people, it does not matter who or what you are. God has lifted me above all my enemies and I am grateful that I am alive to witness my 70th birthday.
As a director on the board of Bestworth Assets and Trust Limited, what is your advice for investors?
As an investor, you shouldn’t make assumptions. You need to be certain that your stockbroker meets all standards set by their own profession. Just like they practise in Bestworth Assets and Trust, I have tried other brokers and I noticed that Bestworth are reliable and they will give you the best and good reasons to invest. Nobody wants to put his or her money in the hands of a stockbroker who is not registered. But an unregistered stockbroker will not see it as such. They will convince you but be smart and invest wisely. Especially, now that oil price has really dropped. This is the best time to invest. Only a registered stockbroker will confidently give a quick answer. So I encourage people to invest wisely. You need to know what investment strategies your potential stockbroker will adopt with your money. Will they be making long-term purchases? Short sales? Margin transactions or options? Do they adopt a single proven strategy for all their clients or they use a different strategy for each client? Don’t just accept straight answers. Demand explanations too and invest wisely.
People see you as a very tough man? Do you think you are one?
It depends on their definition of toughness but I know that like I said if there is anything as reincarnation, I want to come back a man because there is nothing as amazing as watching your children celebrate you. So whether you have to be a tough man to survive is what I don’t know, but I do know that I am a good strategist because I spend so much time on my own. So I strategise a lot on how to survive in a country like Nigeria. If that is called being tough, so be it.
What are your regrets in life so far?
Absolutely, no regrets. I thank God for every good thing and every bad thing that has happened to me but I am very grateful because God has compensated me with good things from the challenges I passed through while growing up. If I come back, I will still do it the same way but I want my parents to be alive so that they can reap the fruit of their labour. I have enjoyed everything that came along with what I chose to be in life. From my career, as devout member of the Anglican Church, where I was awarded a Knight of the Church I have enjoyed it. Even my venturing into business, I have enjoyed it.
What was your growing up like?
Let me say I was born on April 18, 1945 at Ojoelen, Ekpoma in Edo State to Pa John Obeke Ainabe (Alias O Jesus) and Madam Oyibo Ainabe. I attended St. Mark’s Anglican Primary School and St. Peter’s Anglican Secondary School between 1955 and 1963 at Ujuelen, Ekpoma. I was known to be a brilliant student and this went with a lot of leadership responsibilities as at that time. Between 1966 and 1970, I also attended Western Boys High School, Benin where I completed my secondary education and between 1972 and1974, I obtained a diploma in salesmanship from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. I also obtained MBA from Syracuse University, New York, in 1980 I was opportune to attend various courses and seminars at home and abroad. I am a member of the Howard University Business Review Committee; member of the American Professional Club of PI Sigma Epsilon, New York, and member, Direct and Professional Sales and Marketing Executives International of New York.
When would you call your best moments?
(Laughs) My best moments in life were discovering myself as a hardworking man; discovering what aspects of career I wanted to pursue at the beginning of my own independence. Also meeting my wife, falling in love and getting married and having children who today are doing amazingly well and remaining my source of pride. Anytime I look at them, I feel many inches taller than I am. All these are the things that make growing up get really exciting. Discovering yourself and your body has been great and also knowing what you have to do in the midst of all God has created.
Do you have experts who handle your wardrobe for you?
It is natural. I do them myself. I grew up dressing well and also know how to take care of my clothes and my things. I grew up knowing how to come out looking good and so I don’t have need for a wardrobe manager. I don’t just shop off the shelf; I take my time to pick what I want. No matter how many dresses I have, they all have their various sentimental values attached to them. I manage myself and most important, I manage my body.
Now you are 70, will you still have time for your family?
I am in my retirement age. So I will surely have time for them, particularly, my darling wife. All these years I have been so busy chasing one business or the other. I had no time for her. Sometimes she complains but I know how to pet her and make her happy. But now I am relaxed I will surely concentrate on her.
So are you promising to be a romantic husband to your wife?
Oh yes…I am ready to show her more love and I know this will make her happy. Even at 70, I will be more romantic than ever.